What we have been reminded, as sports became a sort of studio production upon their return from the pandemic hiatus in 2020, the games matter most. Whether there have been zero fans in the stadiums or a few thousand, these occasions have produced many moments of competitive tension and athletic brilliance.
Which is not to say we haven’t missed the crowds.
You do not need to have 104,944 at Ohio Stadium to stage a Buckeyes home game, but when they are singing in unison of the pride in their state, it creates a scene that leads a bystander to chills.
MORE: The 10 most inspiring sports-movie soundtracks of all time, ranked
One of the great things about sports is the way a fan base can embrace a song as its own and turn it into an essential part of the game experience. Its connection to the team they love can be obvious or obscure. But when that bond forms, it creates a special sort of magic in a stadium or arena. We decided to honor this by choosing the 15 best “stadium songs” — those adopted by a particular team and played regularly at its home games. (Fight songs were not eligible, so “Hail to The Victors” didn’t have a chance.)
Being honest here: Doing the research for this, I teared up more than a few times remembering what it’s like to have a stadium full of fans reveling in the experience of attending a game and supporting their team. Returning to those days cannot arrive soon enough.
Washington Nationals: ‘Take On Me’
History of the song: Written by the members of the Norwegian band A-ha, it was the first single they released and became a No. 1 hit through much of the world, including the U.S., where it became the No. 10 song of the entire year. It is a fast-paced, synthesizer-driven pop song that was the group’s only American hit, but it helped the band win a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. The band was successful enough in Europe and other parts of the planet to sell more than 100 million records, combining albums and singles.
History with the Nationals: Outfielder Michael Morse, who played four seasons with the Nationals that included a 31-homer year in 2011, used “Take On Me” as his walk-up music, and fans chose to sing along as he walked to the plate. After he was traded to the Mariners in 2013, it became a tradition to segue from “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to “Take On Me.” There was some consternation among fans a few years later that the team had stopped playing it, but it was there in all its alleged glory during the World Series run of 2019. (Let’s be honest. This is not a good song. But it is a blast to watch a stadium full of fans try to hit the high notes).
New England Patriots: ‘This Is Our House’
Artist: Bon Jovi
History of the song: Jon Bon Jovi, who wrote it along with lead guitarist Richie Sambora and frequent collaborator Desmond Child, has said it was intended to serve as a sports fans’ anthem, which certainly separates it from “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” It includes a chant-response chorus that is ideal for the occasion: “Are we gonna raise the roof? Oh, yeah! Are we gonna touch the sky? Hell, yeah!”And later phrases clearly are associated with a sporting frame of mind: “This is our house … These are my people, listen, this is my town.” It was popular with Bon Jovi fans but did not crack the Billboard top 40.
History with the Patriots: “Our House” became the Patriots’ touchdown celebration song almost immediately upon its release, and given thatthe team reached the Super Bowl five times in the next 10 seasons, that means it was spun about as often over that decade as “Rolling in the Deep.”
Notre Dame football: ‘I’m Shipping Up To Boston’
Artist: Dropkick Murphys
History of the song: The lyrics about a sailor who has lost both his leg and the peg designed to replace it are credited to legendary folk musician Woody Guthrie. But the Dropkick Murphys handled the glorious instrumental mix that made their record so distinctive. Its Celtic folk-dance style connects so immediately to the audience and conveys such an obvious sense of place that it added a necessary urgency to the score of Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film “The Departed.”
History with Notre Dame: “Shipping Up To Boston” is played as part of the pre-kickoff routine at Notre Dame Stadium. First, there is a haunting acapella folk song called “Here Come the Irish” — written by Jim Tullio with lyrics by former ND center John Scully — sung by Jefferson Starship lead singer Cathy Richardson. Then, as that last note hits, there is an immediate segue into the Dropkick Murphys’ version of “Boston,” with its unmistakable mix of banjo and accordion leading into guitar power chords and then the full band playing at once. Notre Dame’s presentation never gets to the singing part (if that’s what we want to call it).
Alabama football: ‘Sweet Home Alabama’
Artist: Lynyrd Skynyrd
History of the song: Written by band members Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington and Ed King, it serves as a response to Neil Young records “Southern Man” and “Alabama,” both of which were harshly critical of the Jim Crow South. “We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two,” Van Zant said at the time. For his part, Young later said his song “Alabama” had been too “condescending” and warranted the feedback from Skynyrd. Whatever side one takes in this beef, it’s undeniable that “Sweet Home Alabama” was immediately infectious and has worn beautifully over five decades. It was Skynyrd’s only top-10 single, peaking at No. 8.
History with Alabama: There was an obvious connection between “Sweet Home Alabama” and the Crimson Tide, and it has become an indispensable part of the pregame festivities at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Fans engage by waving crimson-and-white shakers in time with the song’s persistent beat, and they have inserted a “Roll, Tide, Roll” chant during a three-beat count that follows the singing of the title at the start of each chorus.
Ohio State football: ‘Hang On Sloopy’
Artist: The McCoys
History of the song: Sloopy was the biggest hit for songwriter Wes Farrell (who also wrote “Come a Little Bit Closer” for Jay and the Americans) and among the biggest for co-writer Bert Berns (“Twist and Shout,” “Piece of My Heart”). Led by Rick Derringer, who later became widely known as a solo artist and guitarist, The McCoys were the first band to record “Hang On Sloopy,” but not the first to record the song. The Vibrations, a vocal group from LA, had a hit with “My Girl Sloopy,”going all the way to No. 26. The McCoys’ retitled version made it to No. 1.
History with Ohio State: John Tatenghorst was a percussion student in 1965 when he urged the director of The Ohio State University Marching Band to allow him to arrange Sloopy for the assembly also known as The Best Damn Band In The Land. It received such an enthusiastic response from the Horseshoe crowd that it became a standard for the band, and its tradition has endured for more than 50 years. Fans reacted so well to the band adopting a current hit that eventually coach Woody Hayes noticed their enthusiasm and urged that it be played at crucial moments during games. One of the keys to its popularity with Buckeyes is a four-beat sequence in between recitations of the chorus — “Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on” — during which the crowd spells out “O-H-I-O.” The practice has spread to Cleveland Indians home games, where the McCoys record is played during the eighth inning at Progressive Field.
New York Yankees: ‘Theme from New York, New York’
Artist: Frank Sinatra
History of the song: It was written for the Martin Scorsese film “New York, New York” by the team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, who collaborated on such theater classics as “Chicago” and “Cabaret.” On the film’s soundtrack, it was sung by star Liza Minnelli, but her version never became a hit (and neither did the film, a rare flop for Scorsese). When Sinatra covered the song, though, he wound up with his first top-40 hit since 1969’s “My Way.”Its impact on the culture, though, went far beyond its chart position. It became a standard for him in concerts and television appearances for the final two decades of his life and was embraced by America’s largest city as a musical embodiment of the city’s significance. Sinatra called it “one of the most exciting pieces of music of all my years.”
History with the Yankees: The team — owner George Steinbrenner, in fact — did not waste time in affiliating itself with Sinatra’s recording. “He loved that song,” former Yankees public relations exec Harvey Greene told MLB.com. It became a part of the team’s gameday experience in the year of its release, which is exceedingly rare for traditions such as these. It now is played after the final out of each game at new Yankee Stadium and has become so associated with the team that when the Mets attempted to play it at Shea Stadium, their fans booed.
Cincinnati Bengals: ‘Welcome to The Jungle’
Artist: Guns N’ Roses
History of the song: The songwriting credit is attributed to “Guns N’ Roses,” but lead singer Axl Rose takes credit for the lyrics and guitarist Slash for the distinctive licks that make it such a memorable record. It was the opening track on the band’s first studio album, “Appetite For Destruction,” which took a while to catch fire but became a huge hit. “Jungle” was released as the album’s second single in 1987 and did not approach the top 40 but when re-released more than a year later — after the album took off — it reached No. 24.
History with the Bengals: In 1989, a Cincinnati Enquirer article featured a “Welcome to The Jungle” banner carried to Riverfront Stadium by a group of Bengals fans from the nearby town of Wilmington. Two decades later, Mary Schmitt Boyer wrote a book she titled, “Welcome to the Jungle: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Bengals Fan.” The song is employed following the pregame hype video, as Cincinnati players enter the field from the tunnel and starters are introduced, and again immediately before kickoff. Its scratching, atmospheric solo guitar intro leads into a short, driving instrumental encompassing the entire band and then the opening lyric: “Welcome to the jungle, we’ve got fun and games.” Paul Brown Stadium hasn’t been used as often for concerts as some stadiums, but Guns N’ Roses played there in 2016.
West Virginia: ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’
Artist: John Denver
History of the song: “Country Roads” originally was conceived by the husband and wife team of Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, who later became part of the Starland Vocal Band — which, indeed, gifted the world with the record “Afternoon Delight,” another Danoff composition. They wrote much of “Country Roads” and had intended to sell it to Johnny Cash. But when they played the song for Denver while he was in New York playing a gig near the end of 1970, he loved it, helped them finish and then recorded it for his subsequent album, “Poems, Prayers & Promises.” As a writer, Denver had a massive No. 1 hit with “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” for Peter, Paul and Mary, but “Country Roads” — which made it to No. 2 — was his first as an artist.
History with WVU: The connection is the most obvious of any song on the list. The first four words on the lyric sheet are: Almost heaven, West Virginia. How could it not become a state anthem? It also is a song whose range is available to even the most challenged singers, so it was bound to be one that drew a reaction on a bar jukebox or in a stadium filled with Mountaineers fans. It’s been part of the pregame presentation at WVU football games since 1972 and is played after each home victory. Denver was invited to perform at the dedication of the new Mountaineer Field in 1980. He was joined by Danoff and Nivert. Naturally, they played, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
Green Bay Packers: ‘Bang the Drum All Day’
Artist: Todd Rundgren
History of the song: “Bang the Drum” was buried midway through the second side of Rundgren’s album “The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect” and is essentially unrecognizable as a Rundgren record. His most remembered music, from the 1970s, generally was slow to mid-tempo and often romantic, hits such as “We Gotta Get You a Woman” and “Can We Still Be Friends.” Rundgren was a visionary musician, though, who played every instrument on this album and self-produced it. “Bang the Drum” was not a major hit, reaching only No. 63 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it became lucrative for the artist when Carnival Cruise Lines licensed it as part of an advertising campaign.
History with the Packers: An article from MilwaukeeRecord.com, written in 2017 when Rundgren made a tour stop in the city, credits a Packers game-day producer named Mike McKenna with playing the song after each Green Bay touchdown at Lambeau Field. After a DJ named “Old Man Malcolm” Michiles joined the team in 2007, he said to the Record, “I feel like there would be riots, friendly riots, if you played anything else after a touchdown.”
Southern California football: ‘Tusk’
Artist: Fleetwood Mac
History of the song: Written by band member Lindsey Buckingham, “Tusk” is a curious record, heavily reliant on a variety of percussion instruments played by drummer Mick Fleetwood — including a lamb chop — and with lyrics whose meaning is accessible only if you know what the word “tusk” is meant to represent. (Not to get too specific, but it’s about sex.) What makes the song dazzle, though, is the use of the Spirit of Troy marching band from USC to provide the horn section. It was Fleetwood’s idea to use the band, and they recorded their part at an impromptu studio established at Dodger Stadium. As a single, “Tusk” reached No. 8 on the Billboard chart and set a record, because of the USC band, for the most musicians ever to play on a hit single.
History with USC: The Spirit of Troy band has a lot of great material to play, including “Fight On” and “Tribute to Troy.”But “Tusk” stands out because it is played less regularly during the course of a game and because the horn chart is so powerful and haunting. “I don’t think you can be in this band and ‘Tusk’ isn’t your favorite song,” saxophonist Brianne Tabios told the Los Angeles Times in 2016. “I don’t think that’s possible.” It also has the distinction of being home to a five-note bridge that repeats during the course of the song that devious Trojans students turned into a semi-profane denigration of rival UCLA. The university now boasts that they’ve got the first college marching band with a platinum record.
Pittsburgh Steelers: ‘Renegade’
History of the song: “Renegade” was the third single released from the ”Pieces of Eight” album and reached the No. 16 position on Billboard’s Hot 100. It was written by longtime bandmember Tommy Shaw, who also served as lead vocalist on the track. It’s the story of an outlaw being pursued and cornered by a bounty hunter.
History with the Steelers: According to local reports, it began to become popular during the 2002 season, when the team rallied from a 1-3 start to a 10-5-1 finish that led to a Wild Card round playoff game at home against the Browns. With the Steelers trailing 24-7 in the second half, the song was played twice during breaks as the team surged to an improbable 36-33 victory. Its use at the start of a key defensive possession in the second half of close games — with a montage of big hits by star defenders such as Troy Polamalu in past years and T.J. Watt now — has become a staple of Steelers home games. The team’s connection to Styx led to the group singing the national anthem at Steelers games when in the area, such as before a 2016 home game against the Chiefs.
Boston Red Sox: ‘Sweet Caroline’
Artist: Neil Diamond
History of the song: Written and performed by Diamond, “Sweet Caroline” was one of three hit singles for him in 1969 but was not included on any of his original albums. It was added as an extra track to re-issues of the “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” album, as well as being included on “His 12 Greatest Hits” from 1974. It reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
History with the Red Sox: Both the team and the song have been around a lot longer than they’ve been together. Their association began in the late 1990s, mostly because a team employee named Amy Tobey knew someone who’d had a baby named Caroline. She came to view it as a good-luck charm, a song to play when the team was leading late in games, but in 2002, Charles Steinberg became the team’s vice president of public affairs and noticed that the song was one that got fans involved. It now is played before the bottom of the eighth inning of each home game. The 2005 movie “Fever Pitch,” about an obsessive Red Sox fan trying to incorporate another love into his life, helped cement it as tradition.
Wisconsin football: ‘Jump Around’
Artist: House of Pain
History of the song: Writing credits are shared by Lawrence Muggerud (known professionally as DJ Muggs) and Erik Schrody (better known as Everlast). DJ Muggs said he came up with the beat and presented it to several prominent rap artists before finally finding a taker in House of Pain. There are some who find the persistent squeal that punctuates at regular intervals to be grating, but its infectious, irresistible beat helped make the song wildly popular, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard chart.
History with the Badgers: According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Jump Around” was introduced at the start of the fourth quarter of a game against Purdue and quarterback Drew Brees at Camp Randall Stadium in 1998. “We looked over and saw the student section. It was unreal — it was more than goose bumps,” former lineman Erik Waisanen told the Journal Sentinel. “It was more than a confidence builder, and I really wish I could come up with a better way to describe it.” It’s been played at most every home game since — although, in 2003, when Camp Randall was being renovated, the university requested that the song not be played at the season opener for fear the jumping around would cause damage. After many complaints — and a check to assure the structure would not become a literal house of pain if the fans jumped around — it was reprised at the next home game.
Liverpool FC: ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’
Artist: Gerry and the Pacemakers
History of the song: It was written by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein for their second musical, “Carousel,” which debuted in 1945. The song serves an uplifting finale to what frequently is a dark show, but its message of hope became a beacon for many in Allied countries as World War II neared its conclusion. The song was sung on the original Broadway recording by Christine Johnson but has been covered by such artists as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Patti LaBelle’s 1964 version reached No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100.
History with Liverpool: “You’ll Never Walk Alone” also was recorded by Liverpool-based group Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1963, and that’s when it started to become a staple of the scene at Anfield, where Liverpool plays its home games. The record was a No. 1 hit in the UK for a month, and its frequent play through the new public address system at Anfield led to its gradual adoption as the club’s anthem. The Pacemakers recording now is played just before kickoff at home games, with the entire home crowd on its feet, singing along. When Liverpool trailed 3-0 at halftime of their Champions League final against AC Milan at Istanbul, the 30,000-plus LFC fans in the audience sang the song at halftime. Legend has it, this inspired the players to one of the great comebacks in UCL history.
Virginia Tech football: ‘Enter Sandman’
History of the song: “Enter Sandman” was the first single released from the heavy metal band’s fifth album, which simply was titled “Metallica.” It was written by band members James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett, evolving from a guitar riff that Hammett conceived. The lyrics discuss childhood nightmares, but let’s be honest — the words rightfully are overwhelmed by the phenomenal instrumental work.
History with Virginia Tech: The athletic department installed a new video scoreboard in advance of the 2000 season and considered a number of different songs to choose as an entrance theme for the Hokies. None registered in quite the same way as “Enter Sandman,” whose rugged guitar licks at the open get Hokies fans rocking in the stadium in a stunning scene that is singular even in the theatrical world of college football. Players have said they literally could feel the stadium turf shaking as they entered. It has such a connection to the band thatmembers of Metallica recorded a video to be played as part of the pregame hype. The song’s impact is particularly powerful at night games, naturally.